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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prescribes a framework of rules to govern the transmission of radio signals. Under these rules, each user of the radio spectrum must be eligible to operate on given frequencies and be authorized to do so. The FCC rules and regulations are organized into various parts and subparts which address the FCC’s practice and procedure as well as the particulars of the radio services into which the frequency spectrum is allocated, including frequency assignment policy and operating requirements. Public Safety communications including the Special Emergency Radio Service is governed by Part 90 of the FCC Rules.

1. General Requirements

Licensees of radio systems have direct responsibility for the proper operation of each transmitter licensed. They must ensure that radios are used in accordance with the FCC rules and for purposes directly related to the particular activities for which they are licensed. Priority is to be given to communications involving the imminent safety of life and property, but licensees are required to keep transmission times to a minimum and employ efficient operating procedures to maximize the utilization of the frequency spectrum.
With the exception of those frequencies assigned for the exclusive use of a licensee in the frequency bands 470-512 MHz and 806-824/851-869 MHz, frequency assignments are considered to be available on a shared basis only. All licensees, and applicants for new licenses, are required to cooperate in the selection and use of frequencies in order to reduce interference and make the most effective use of the authorized radio facilities.
Licensees are required to take reasonable precautions to avoid causing harmful interference to other radio users. This includes monitoring the operating frequency for communications in progress and other such necessary measures to minimize the potential for interference.

2. Station Identification

For public safety communications systems, each station or system of stations must be identified by the transmission of the assigned FCC call sign during each exchange of transmissions, or once every 30 minutes if operation is continuous. Identification must be made by voice in the English language or, alternatively, may be made by automatic means using the International Morse Code. In addition to the call sign, station or unit identifiers may be transmitted as necessary or desirable for system operation.

3. Operator Requirements

No operator license or permit is required for the individual personnel operating radio equipment. Any person having the consent of the system licensee may provide authorized communications on behalf of the licensee. Cooperating users of other’s radio systems should maintain a written agreement of use for such systems.

The licensee will at all times exercise responsibility for operations and is expected to provide observation, servicing and maintenance as often as necessary to ensure compliance with all applicable rules. Operators should be trained initially and recurrently regarding the complex nature of EMS communication systems utilized, as well as those local systems granting and expecting access.


In the course of providing emergency health care to the public, many of the individual participants practicing in the EMS system are required to communicate with one another via two-way radio facilities. Good operator practice is essential to the effectiveness and efficiency of any public safety communications system. For EMS, good practice followed by EMTs/paramedics, dispatchers, physicians and emergency department nursing personnel relates directly to a reduction in response time which in turn saves lives, reduces further injuries and minimizes suffering.

1. Equipment Familiarization

A first step in proper communications techniques is a familiarization with the radio equipment to be used by the operator. There are many different brands and types of radio equipment items that EMS personnel will encounter in their work, and manufacturers are continually introducing new products which will always present new educational challenges. As a minimum, communications systems are comprised of mobile and portable radios, base/repeater stations and various radio control devices. Additionally, they may include more complex aspects such as telemetry, satellite receiver voting systems, vehicular repeaters and trunked operations.

EMS personnel should take sufficient time to learn the correct operation of each item of communications equipment that they use. They should fully investigate the various features of that equipment in order to maximize the extent to which the equipment assists in delivery of emergency services. Operators are encouraged to ask questions of their colleagues, equipment maintenance technicians and manufacturers’ representatives to ensure understanding.
Most EMS radio systems provide the flexibility to communicate to various hospitals and dispatch centers via the use of selectable channels, tones, and codes. EMS personnel must understand the procedures for such selections which are normally based on patient destination, status, local area, or combination of similar factors. EMS providers should include quick-reference documentation for use by field personal that is designed to be utilized during emergent circumstances. Hospital providers should also keep similar reference materials readily available at their radio positions.

2. Communications Skills

The objective of radio communications in EMS is to convey information in a concise and accurate manner. The communications skills exhibited by operator personnel can have a positive influence on the outcome of a particular event.

A. Operating
For most EMS providers there is generally a protocol (written or unwritten) to govern radio communications. If unwritten, such procedures are probably defined by tradition. No attempt is made here to establish a particular mode of operation however; certain key points are highlighted for the benefit of operator personnel.
Follow standard protocol established by the EMS service. It may address the manner in which calls are to be placed from one unit of the service to another and govern the manner in which messages are formatted.
Maintain channel discipline. Courtesy and respect for the communications of others sharing the radio channel go a long way in preserving order, especially in congested geographic areas with much radio traffic. Monitor the channel before transmitting to prevent interference to other users. Think ahead and keep transmissions short and to the point to maximize airtime.
Practice verbal communications skills. Speak distinctly, at a moderate rate, and directly into the microphone or handset to maximize intelligibility. Keeping the microphone close to the mouth overcomes background noise and permits the operator to speak in a normal tone of voice. Shouting is to be avoided as it results in audio distortion.
Use plain language to describe a particular condition or event when in doubt of the appropriate aural brevity code which might otherwise be used. Individuals under stress may find it easier to relate clear and simple descriptions.
B. Technical Considerations
Key your transmitter before engaging in speech. The complexities in communications system design often introduce delay in the time it takes to turn on the various components comprising the system. Transmitters take time to come up to full power output, tone squelch decoding equipment requires time to open receivers and receiver voting systems take time to select the best receiver. While these events generally are accomplished in less than one second’s time, there are many voice transmissions that could be missed in their entirety if the operator did not delay slightly before beginning his/her voice message. Pausing one second after depressing the push-to-talk button on the microphone or handset is sufficient in most cases to prevent missed words or responses.
Transmissions should generally be kept to less than 20 seconds, or within the time specifically allocated by the system. Most radio systems limit transmissions to less than 30 seconds to prevent malfunctioning transmitters or accidentally keyed microphones from dominating a system, and will automatically stop transmitting at the expiration of the allowed time cutting off additional audio.
Keep loudspeaker clear of clutter. Papers or other materials covering or obstructing loudspeakers can diminish receiver audio and alter intelligibility.
Avoid turning receiver volume too low. A low setting may fail to attract the operator’s attention to an incoming call.

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